Category Archives: Education

Relief in a realization

The special needs community’s perspective toward education is pretty unique. There is an ENORMOUS amount of pressure to be a legal guru in order to convince the local public school system to educate your child as well as possible. Many time, the same families who send all their typical children to private school invest tons of energy into mastering the public school.

Yesterday, I attended a conference where many of the breakout sessions focused on convincing your school to allow your child with a disability to be “included” in general public education.

I felt the familiar self-doubt creeping in:

Why am I not trying harder to win this fight to have Arabella & Darin get a free, appropriate public education? Why do I feel so much more comfortable with my children in private (even though non-inclusive) schools?

And then I felt relief, as I have so often recently, as I remembered something from Carole Joy Seid‘s seminar. I’m not sure how to repeat her whole thought, but basically it was that historically, public school was not the preferred choice – it was for those who had no other choice. Those with choices had governesses or mom’s as their one-on-one teacher.

I realize why I don’t wanna train & join this fight: I don’t believe MY children should be educated by the government.

And it’s a relief for me to realized this & quit feeling like a wimp.

I hope this doesn’t come off as judgement on anyone. This relates to my parenting of my children.

I am in the process of bringing all my actions into alignment with my values. I’m sure you are in the same process.

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“Hours” in your main job = mothering

I’ve been a working-outside-the-home mom for most of my mothering years. Each of my kids was blessed to go to the best preschool, The Rise School of Houston, at 1 year old, & I could go to work while they were there 8:30-2:30.

Paying jobs require a certain “commitment”. If it’s an hourly job, it’s a set of hours to receive pay. If it’s a project-based job, like my business Adaptive Communication Devices, it’s setting aside time to do whatever is due this week.

Mothering seems to have a much more “flexible” commitment. It’s harder to measure if you get more return on your investment (the lives of your kids) if you put in 40 hours of dishes, or skip it all to read a book… It’s an endless project without a due date, and you aren’t told exactly how your “compensation” will be adjusted for each neglected or added task

So, honestly, I’ve never been near as good at, or faithful to do my mothering as I am my case management job or my business.
I never settled on a list of tasks to hold myself to.

Then I decided to homeschool Holden. And I have a mark to exceed: the education he was receiving at Veritas. I didn’t keep him home to save money or waste his time. I kept him home to shape him, to teach him in specialized way designed for him.

This has been so GOOD for my mothering overall. It has given me a standard for what I do with him. And since I love all 3 kids, it’s given me a standard for Arabella & Darin, too.

Sometimes it’s hard to not do all I want with Redeemed or meet up with friends like I had the freedom to during the day. But it definitely feels like this is a job I can do well if I make a commitment to do the tasks I know are needed each week.

Walking in another person’s shoes

As part of homeschooling, Holden and I just enjoyed Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I really enjoyed one topic it helped us to contemplate: beauty & comparison.

Several times in the narrative, discussions of the preference for blonde hair (Laura’s sisters hair color) vs brown hair (Laura’s hair color) came up, and Laura was clearly made to feel inferior. Each time, it was intriguing to see Holden get angry at the feelings of rejection this made Laura feel. He immediately focused these feelings on Mary. Then we talked through this – did Mary chose to be blonde? Was she actually doing anything hurtful to Laura?

Later in the week, Holden came out of the library and mention the librarian helping him had been a lady who he though originally was a man. We talked about how it would feel to have people perceive you differently from how you wish they saw you. I could see that relating to Laura had prepared him to relate to this librarian.

I love learning this stuff with him!

Homeschooling

2013 has found me in a new stage of life.

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Where did it begin
It started in December, when I heard someone say how they didn’t continue to do something that wasn’t working. I thought, “Me neither.”
But at the same time, I thought, “Except Holden’s school.”

I was very discouraged with the fall semester at Veritas Christian Academy. It seemed like the curriculum was lousy, a bad fit for Holden, and the routine wasn’t fitting our family. The only thing it really had going was a nice environment full of nice kids.

So in December, I started dreaming of schooling Holden – having lots of time with him, doing the things differently that I was discouraged with his teacher for, etc. But I wasn’t really sure if I could juggle everything. And I didn’t want to force this on Holden, since he may be facing HUGE changes at the end of the year if Joel gets a pastoral position not in Houston.

I gave Holden the choice. And he picked Veritas. I was really bummed, but decided to pray instead of nag. I completely dropped the subject and all discussions of homeschooling for this Spring.

Then our family took a trip to Maine. Joel preached for 2 Sundays at a church in search of a pastor. And on the trip, Holden repeated his desire to homeschool for 3 days in a row.

Jumping right in

After withdrawing Holden from school, I decided not to stress and rush. We could survive with no formal school for January.

And I started emailing all my homeschool friends to see what they were doing for school. NONE of them do the same thing. Even the friends that are close friends.

This was actually really encouraging: There was no pressure to conform to anything.

I put together my best guess for curriculum preferences on a long Saturday of planning, and we jumped right in 3 weeks ago.

An aside: as I research curriculum, I felt like I was retracing a journey my mom took 25 yrs ago when homeschooling me – following a workbook-based curriculum for my 2nd grade, Christian Liberty Academy for another year, classical textbooks for another. This “journey” reinforced how similar mom & I are, as I can remember her making changes if something wasn’t a fit.

An about face

When emailing my friend, Alicia Taylor, I thought she was schooling her children in a way I wanted to… which I thought resembled closely Charlotte Mason’s style. I was drawn to Charlotte’s ideas of:

  • learning from living books that communicate a topic through the author’s personal experience & passion
  • learning spelling, grammar, & vocabulary by lots of exposure to these living books
  • creative “writing” done by oral narration, so the writing & syntax skills don’t limit the expression of thoughts

But Alicia directed me to a seminar by Carole Joy Seid called A Literature Based Approach to Education. I was excited because my original interest had been in classical education, which was described to me as reading whole books instead of textbooks, but I found it to be a lot of curriculum and workbooks anyway. This method seemed to meet my original expectations.
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This seminar was affirmation of everything my heart longed to do with Holden, but was second guessing as a non-educator who didn’t read very many good books as part of my schooling. I am a reader, but I’ve always read whatever was popular for my age at the time.

Contemplating the transformation

It took me a week & a half to go through this seminar, after I got 3/5 of the way through and realized I needed to be taking notes.

As I worked through it, I was evaluating what I had set out to do with Holden, and how the tasks I had planned 3 weeks ago matched. And I started making changes.
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It feels like I live in a different house, with THREE different children (not just Holden) who are thriving in a way they didn’t before. It has caused me to slow down, unplug devices, and fill “bored” spaces with either (1) reading out loud to 1-2-or-3 kids, or (2) sending them outside and letting them create.
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As I went back through my notes yesterday, I made a simple list of the statements from A Literature Based Approach to Education that are my tips to follow:

  • Do school quickly, tutorial method.
  • Be outside by noon.
  • Encourage your kids for their WORK ETHIC.
  • Teach kids to love books and how to work.
  • The way we teach a child to WANT to read is by reading to them, and NEVER requiring them to read themselves.
  • Reading is a treat. You don’t have to read – you GET to read.
  • Keep a nature journal.
  • Cover your house in maps.
  • Don’t prepare ahead – learn together.
  • Create a history timeline.

Why this is profound & refreshing
This is not my first time to set out at homeschooling. In 2008, I started Kindergarten with Arabella & Holden.

And the biggest difference, and what I think is the reason I failed, was that I tried to “do school” at home. By 2 weeks in, Holden enrolled in public school, & Arabella and I struggled through to Christmas.

At that time, I was going against the research into Waldorf, a system I admire, and pushing reading with a developmentally immature girl.

One of the most amazing parts of Carole Joy Seid’s seminar is research she shares about skills built by being read to and to support late learning of skills as being better, not worse, for a child.

Educating Arabella… God is good, all the time

Last summer, after I had made plans to homeschool Arabella, we moved to Deer Park.
We moved to Deer Park since we had planted The Basilica Community in the Pasadena/Deer Park area in 2006. We spent 2 years commuting to spend time with our churchfolk, and finally realized that we needed to be “in the midst” of our community. So, we tried to sell, and eventually rented, our little bungalow in downtown Houston, and found a rent house in Deer Park.
Of course, God found the rent house… Joel just drove the street to see the sign. It had a playhouse/swingset already, 3 bedrooms, 2 livingrooms and hardwoods. I still love it – a whole year later.
And at the end of our 1-block street is San Jacinto Elementary.
I didn’t know anything about San Jacinto Elementary. But the 2nd week of homeschooling Holden, I enrolled him in school… cuz I was not keeping up with his need for learning, and my full-time job. And I learned that SJE was a really organized, nice school.
What I still didn’t know was this: They have kids with Down syndrome in 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade. Down syndrome is their most well know disability.
But God knew this.
So, in November, Arabella started assessments, and I prepared for an ARD (the committee meeting to plan her “specialized” curriculum). I have heard horror stories about ARDS for 7 years, so I was nervous and took my husband, Arabella’s former principal, and my mom as back up.
But the committee agreed to my ideas. Arabella, already 7 yrs old (although she was 6 yrs on Sept 1) was allowed to spend the day in a Kindergarten class.
Arabella spent this spring in Kindergarten, and gained alot of ground. She was finally able to retain her alphabet and match numbers to items when counting.

So, I went back to ARD in May with hope. I decided, based on wise words from another parent, to think outside the box that Arabella’s peers have been educated in.
You see, as far as I know, most of Arabella’s 7 yr old DS friends went into 1st grade last year.
And this year they will be in 2nd grade. Regardless if they can read, or not.
This did not make sense to me. If Arabella cannot read in a class that is reading information to do their assignments, she will have 2 choices:
1. Be a distraction to the other kids.
2. Be quiet and color while other kids do their work – then do her work in another setting (ie. pull out classroom/resources).
So, I decided to ask for Arabella to be placed in the classroom where all the kids are learning to read – Kindergarten (again).

While the ARD committee was surprised, and had to call a recess so that the principal could attend, they agreed that this made sense.

I feel very good about this! Fortunately (or thankfully by God’s planning), Arabella is only the size of a Kindergartener, so she blends in great.
Now I just have to minimize her telling everyone that on September 11 she will be 8 yrs old!

It all began with Arabella

When I reflect on my current life, so much of what I do, how I see the world, is based on my little Arabella. She is in so many ways my reference point.

Arabella burst into the picture on September 11, 2001. With her birth, I became a mom… something I had wanted my entire life. And in a moment, my heart was tied to that girl.
The first night of her life is so special to me… like a gift from God. For Arabella was born with a congenital heart defect and spent the 2nd through 18th nights of her life in the NICU of Texas Children’s Hospital.

But not the first night. That first night, she and I were alone in a hospital room, with me learning to be her mother. I remember moving her in and out of the bassinet each time I needed to go to the restroom… and then back into bed with me as soon as I got back.
She wasn’t demanding this – she didn’t cry at all.
But I couldn’t resist. I wanted her near me.
And I pretty much laid awake all night, so that the nurses wouldn’t check on me and suggest she go to the nursery.

And in retrospect, I think that night helped me have hope and connection through the next 3 weeks. I knew that I could be her mom and that we would eventually get to go home and be a family.

Arabella was a spectacularly beautiful baby (after the first week or so). This turns out to be common among babies with Down syndrome. They have very sweet, well-proportioned faces, not large unbalanced heads like typically-developing babies. Maybe this is a part of God’s plan to make sure we (parents of children with DS) become extra attached to our children.

Arabella had a rough, rough 1st year – 3 surgeries, a feeding tube, etc. – but those are such distance memories. Like the 1st year of a marriage, all I remember is that it wasn’t perfect, but I can’t really remember why…

As Arabella grew, she began to show a special ability to touch certain people. Not everyone. Not the normal crowd. But the lonely, the person on the fringe who it’s asking for attention. It reminds me so much of Jesus.

Now Arabella is 7 yrs old. She has spent 6 safe, to-easily-taken-for-granted years at a private school just for kids with Down syndrome and their siblings. And she graduated.

Now my real job has begun:

To present Arabella to the world and help them to perceive her beauty.

This is much more emotionally straining than I anticipated. I am a lot more sensitive than I thought I would be.

I want to catalog my journey through this here.

So, the starting point is Fall 2008… I didn’t enroll Arabella in school after she graduated from Rise… I felt like the Lord told me to homeschool her, but since He did not provide a way for me to quit my job, I feel like I was only suppose to do this to learn about the next step: helping a school educate Arabella.

I have learned a lot this fall:
1. I can’t get enough repetition in since I only get to do school with her Monday & Friday… and she needs more, not less, repetition of each concept than a typical kid.
2. She is ready for bigger concepts than I thought. Through testing/assessments, I have been told that she is functioning/learning at a 4 yr old level (she was 7 yrs old on 9/11/08)… but she is learning pretty well the same concepts Holden (my 5 yr old Kindergartener) is learning. She is not retaining them as easily… which makes #2 more important.

So, I went to the public elementary that Holden goes to at the end of our street, and have had 2 assessments with Arabella.

Balancing

I am going back and forth on educating Arabella and Holden.
One day I am set on homeschooling, looking forward to the time together, the opportunity to teach them, and uncomplicate our life.
The next day, I think, "who am I kidding!" I'll never be organized enough to teach them. Their lifes will be chaotic.

Last week, I planned to go on Thursday to just talk to my local school (in a district know for excelling in Special Ed) about Arabella. But I knew there were factors they could not guarantee: mainly, how good of an Aide she would have.
Then Wed, her Speech Therapist invite Arabella to join a 3-day per week class with 5 other kids @ her center, to supplement her homeschooling. It sounds like it will offer just what I was looking for at school – a routine, consistent interactions with other kids, and obedience to another teacher.
I am so thankful for this super-affordable option, 1/2-way between homeschool and school. I'll still do the academics, pick the curriculum, but I'll have some time to reorganize between our at-home school days.

So that just leaves Holden. My sweet Holden. I have lots of guilt about last year. I pulled him out of The Rise School for Pre-K, to try the public Montessori magnet in our old school district, Wilson Elementary. It was a fine arts school, so I thought it would be good for him, but the timing was really about checking it out for Arabella for this coming year.
He missed Rise a lot. Then at the end of the 2nd semester, we moved him to Veritas Christian Academy. He wanted to learn about God, we wanted him to be trained in righteousness, and we knew by then that Wilson Elementary was not going to be a good fit for Arabella.
Holden did great @ Veritas. It was a great little school.

But now that we moved, Veritas is not an option. It's in Bellaire….
We are in Deer Park. It has an 8am arrival with $5 tardies…. We would have to leave home @ 7am to be on time.

So, no matter what, Holden's doing something new. And he doesn't even turn 5 until August 23rd.
At the end of the school year, he was excited about homeschooling….
Now he's asking for school. But he's not the Boss, so I have to decide.

Yikes!